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Chief Wins Key Test on Alarm Plan

Bratton's policy not to respond until a burglary is verified survives vote in L.A. City Council.

January 29, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Department expects to stop responding to unverified burglar alarms in 60 days after a new policy pushed by Chief William J. Bratton survived a City Council veto effort Tuesday.

Bratton has called the policy, which was approved earlier this month by the Police Commission, an important step in his effort to make the Police Department more efficient and effective. Opponents argued that it would leave owners of homes with alarms vulnerable to criminals.

"The 15% of the patrol resources we now spend chasing false alarms

The council vote was a significant political victory for Bratton, who has poured a great deal of his honeymoon-period political capital into the policy.

The move has been vigorously opposed by homeowners groups, alarm companies and some council members. Still, at Tuesday's council meeting, those seeking to veto the policy could muster only eight votes, when 10 were needed. Six members, including council President Alex Padilla, supported the policy, which could take effect in 60 days.

Although the council can legally vote again on the issue by Feb. 4, Bratton and key council members said they do not believe that the votes required to scuttle the policy will materialize.

The council action came after the Police Commission agreed to delay implementation for 60 days to allow a task force to look at alternatives that might reduce the number of false alarms.

Councilman Jack Weiss, who supports the new policy, said Bratton needs the ability to deploy officers to deal with serious crime instead of chasing burglar alarm calls; last year, 92% of alarm calls were false.

"I am willing to give the Police Department the flexibility they need to deal with the epidemic of violent crime in this city," Weiss told his colleagues. He was joined in voting against the veto by Padilla, Cindy Miscikowski, Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes and Tom LaBonge.

If the policy is not vetoed by Feb. 4, and if the Police Commission decides not to adopt the task force recommendations, it will automatically take effect 60 days from Tuesday, without the council being able to intervene again, according to council rules.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who led the fight for the veto, while her brother, Mayor James K. Hahn, supports the chief's policy, called on the Police Commission to schedule the policy for a second vote after the task force submits its recommendations. A second commission vote would allow the council to again exercise its veto powers.

However, Police Commission President Rick Caruso said he will not schedule a second vote on the policy and that he and his fellow commissioners plan to stand firm on the policy.

"We're not going to change our policy or our votes," Caruso said. "We are going to move ahead on it."

If the City Council overturns the policy and sends it back to the commission, "we would send it back [to them] again without any changes," he said. At the same time, Caruso said, the 60-day delay was appropriate to give residents more notification of the change, educate the public about the policy and properly train officers, something that the department was planning to do anyway.

Howard Sunkin, a lobbyist for the alarm industry, said the vote to create a task force was "a clear message that the public needs to be consulted before a final policy is developed."

"The alarm industry is grateful for that," he said.

Council members have received hundreds of phone calls, faxes, e-mails and letters from constituents -- some rallied by the alarm industry and their lobbyists -- to oppose the policy.

Councilman Hal Bernson said residents and business owners fear that they will be left to fend for themselves by the policy.

"We cannot abandon the public," Bernson said during the hourlong, emotionally charged debate. "We cannot let criminals know we will not respond when somebody's home is invaded."

Police Commission Executive Director Joe Gunn said there are so many false alarms now that the calls are given low priority, meaning that officers often take 45 minutes or more to respond. Under the new policy, once a call is verified, the police will respond with a high priority, arriving in 10 minutes or less, Gunn said.

The compromise approved by the council will create a task force within 10 days that will be made up of representatives of the LAPD, the alarm industry, neighborhood councils, citizen police advisory boards and city officials. Miscikowski said she sees the task force's role as working out ways to verify that alarms are genuine.

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